Lakenheath 2 Mulbarton Wanderers 0


The village of Lakenheath, in the top left hand corner of Suffolk beyond Mildenhall is some 69 kilometres from the County Town of Ipswich, about an hour’s drive along the A14, the A1101 and then the B1112.  Lakenheath has a railway station but hardly any trains stop there.    If you want to watch Lakenheath FC play on a Saturday afternoon and you really, really want to travel by train two journeys are possible; leaving Ipswich at 8am and 8.08am these take you via Ely and Thetford or via Norwich and Thetford arriving at twenty four minutes past ten, giving you ample time to walk or even crawl the near 4.5 kilometres to Lakenheath village; no buses pass the station.  You’ll need to take a sleeping bag because there is no train back from Lakenheath until the next day.  If however, you like a lie-in on a Saturday morning but are still committed to saving the planet by using public transport then from Ipswich it is easier and quicker to catch the 11:20 train to Bury St Edmunds from where Mulley’s Motorways service 955 to Mildenhall connects with Coach Services service 201, which arrives ‘outside the post box’ (as opposed to inside it) at Lakenheath at 13.33.  Getting back is difficult however because the last bus out of Lakenheath arrives in Mildenhall at 18.18, eight minutes after the last bus departed for Bury.  The only way to return from Lakenheath therefore is to catch the 18.58 number 200 bus to Thetford, which is perfectly timed to arrive one minute after the train to Ely for the onward connection to Ipswich left at 19:24.  The next train from Thetford is the 19:54 to Norwich from where a connection arrives back in Ipswich at 21:41.   The on-line timetables tell us that the bus ‘services’ are supported by Suffolk County Council, but it’s as if they are trying to make them unusable, perhaps so a lack of passengers will justify not supporting them in the future.

With the best part of seven hours being a lot of time to spend on travelling to a ‘local’ football match, my wife Paulene and I reluctantly dodge the pleas of Greta Thurnberg and climb in to our trusty Citroen C3.  Sadly, it’s not such a fine day to go travelling either, with low grey clouds, a strong blustery wind and the threat of rain casting foreboding over the Suffolk landscape.  The countryside is bleak on a day such as this, although the open fields of Breckland with their rows of contorted Scots Pine trees (pine lines) leaning with the prevailing wind give this corner of Suffolk a distinctive character. 

Lakenheath has a long broad main street; we pass the medieval church of St Mary the Virgin on our right and at the instruction of our French speaking satnav turn a droite into Wing Street and then a gauche into a rough car park and the gateway to ‘The Pit’ or ‘The Nest’ as Lakenheath’s football ground is known.  Access is down a rough slope and round a sharp corner into another small rough car park; the site is an old chalk pit or quarry.  We’ve definitely come to the right place as the Mulbarton Wanderers team bus is parked opposite and they are today’s opponents. 

Tall trees surround us on three sides and as I lock up the Citroen Paulene takes crunchy footsteps across the car park to the small wooden turnstile hut without a turnstile.   Paulene asks the man in the wooden hut how old you have to be to be considered a pensioner but he doesn’t answer and charges us full price (£5 each), we buy a programme too (£1).  The  players are out on the pitch warming up as we head for the clubhouse; Paulene remarks on the dugouts being on the far side of the pitch and admits to having hated having to trudge across the pitch from the changing room to the dugout in her time as  physio with Wivenhoe Town.  It looks like Lakenheath have recently moved theirs to the other side of the pitch, perhaps to improve the view from the stand.

The clubhouse is spacious, if a little dark as a result, but the bar and barmaid are bright and welcoming and I order a glass of rose for Paulene; sadly there is no real ale so I take a deep breath and order a half of Greene King IPA ‘Smooth’, although I would prefer almost any other beer, even if it’s rough; the two drinks cost £5.30.  We sit at a table by a window.  The TV is on but a caption says there is no signal, perhaps because we are in the bottom of a quarry.  Without TV to dull people’s minds the room is filled with the sound of conversation but also the thumping rhythm of loud music from the changing rooms next door; I like to imagine it’s the referees not the players making the noise and that they are stood in their pants singing into hairbrushes and playing air-guitar .  At the table behind us three middle-aged men talk very loudly as if trying to be heard above the sound of jet engines at the nearby air force base. They discuss retired footballers, most of whom are now dead.  Although this is a far flung corner of Suffolk, the twang of London accents is evident.  A man in a yellow and black jacket sells us a strip of yellow draw tickets, Nos 481 to 485.  As usual I am destined not to win; the seller has got to me four strips too early.

Time passes quickly and it’s almost five to three. The loud men behind us have already left and we follow suit, downing what’s left of our drinks before braving the breezy outdoors; we both have our woolly hats on today.   The two teams line up behind the referee Mr Cameron Saunders and his two assistants Messrs Andrew Hardy and Lewis Lofts, who sounds like he might offer to board over your attic.  The group marches on to the pitch but quickly break formation, not hanging round for any ritual handshaking as happens at higher levels of the game.

Lakenheath get first go with the ball kicking towards Wing Street and wearing green shirts with white shorts and socks, they look a bit like French Ligue 2 club Red Star.  Mulbarton Wanderers are in all pale blue with shirts sponsored by ‘Pip’s Skips’ and they play in the direction of the railway line far off to the north.  The early pace of the game is fast with a clear desire to get the ball forward quickly.  Mulbarton soon settle but look lightweight up front.  Despite the blustery wind and a hard and uneven looking pitch some of the football is neat and good to watch.  For both these clubs it’s their first ever season in the Eastern Counties League First Division,  step-six of non-league football, and both have done well, with Mulbarton guaranteed a third place finish and Lakenheath set to finish fifth in the nineteen team league if they win today.

Weirdly Lakenheath don’t seem to have a team captain, with no one wearing an armband and no one annotated as such on the team sheet.  As much as a sort of football-collective seems a good idea, their goal keeper Frank Gammon, which incidentally I think is a great name, seems to be taking on the mantle however, with his constant encouragement and advice from the penalty area.  “Win your battles”, “Left Shoulder”, “No foul” he shouts, continuously.   But he’s doing a good job and Mulbarton are kept at bay without much difficulty.  Lakenheath seem to have just one striker, number nine Shaun Avis who the programme tells me has scored 15 goals in just seven games this season, which is rather impressive.  He looks lively but misses the two chances he has, taking the ball around the Mulbarton keeper Tom Wright by the corner of the penalty area, but then going for the spectacular and achieving it with a spectacularly high and wide shot before also glancing a free header wide of the goal.

Paulene and I take a stroll around to take in the ambiance of ‘The Pit’, which we both agree is a much better name than ‘The Nest’ not just because it is devoid of unfortunate associations with Norwich City, which is very important in Suffolk.  It’s a name that makes me think of Clive King’s children’s novel ‘Stig of the Dump’  and I imagine a variation of the story in which a boy makes friends with a team of Neolithic footballers and helps them erect a goal, which looks uncannily like Stonehenge.   This is a lovely football ground, the steep sides of the former quarry and the tall trees acting like natural substitutes for tall stands and creating a sense of enclosure which few non-league grounds even at much higher levels can rival.  Sadly it’s a grey day today but it must be beautiful in the sunshine; even today there is birdsong and  the tall trees sway eerily in the wind; wild flowers grow behind the goal lines and one corner of the pitch is covered in daisies, albeit closed up ones.  Sadly, it’s not yet possible to walk all around the pitch but a concrete path behind the dug-outs and right hand goal form the man stand is due to be completed in the close season.

Back on the pitch, Mulbarton appeal for a penalty. “Handball!” shouts someone, “Rubbish” shouts someone else in response from the stand.  Either way no one seems to much like referee Mr Saunders and someone else shouts “Referee, you’re getting worse”.  I am slightly suspicious of Mr Saunders myself, his hair is just a bit too neat; he could be a Jehovah’s witness or a Mormon. Meanwhile on the near touchline to the stand the grey-haired, be-spectacled referee’s assistant reminds me of a conductor on the Eastern Counties buses I used catch to school.

Half-time arrives and I depart for the clubhouse where there is a short queue at the bar for teas and coffees.  As I queue the half-time draw is made; ticket number 501 wins first prize and the man behind me in the queue discovers he is the winner, but at least I get my tea before him.   The tea (£1 per ‘cup’) is poured from a large pot into china mugs, this is sadly something that happens almost nowhere else in senior football any more but it should.  If a football club is happy to get the china out it makes you feel like a human being, not as if any old plastic or polystyrene receptacle will do just to get another quid out of you; it feels like they want people to enjoy this tea, as if they care; and a very good cup of tea it is too.  We drink our tea in the small brick stand, a homely and utilitarian structure with wooden benches, it’s beautifully dilapidated and I hope it’s never demolished to make way for one of the boring modern, ‘meccano’ stands.

Paulene and I are refreshed and the game begins again at precisely three minutes past four. Within six minutes Lakenheath are ahead.  No one seems quite sure why, although importantly Mulbarton players do not seem to be complaining, but Mr Saunders awards a penalty to Lakenheath and  top scorer Kelvin Enaro scores his twenty eighth goal of the season,  booting the ball to Tom Wright’s right as he collapses to his knees.   With a goal lead Lakenheath are more relaxed; the pace of the game is a little slower and the passing more accurate and more controlled, there’s less anxiety.   Mulbarton look even less likely to score than they did in the first half, but do claim the first booking of the match as their number seven, the splendidly named Dom Doggett,  incurs Mr Saunders’ wrath for a foul.  It’s not long before Doggett is substituted for number fourteen, Charlie Norman. 

For a while the game drifts and I listen to the birdsong and enjoy the lush greenery of the quarry banks.   A tall, grey-haired man walks up into the stand carrying a match ball. “Man of the match Dave? What did you do, score a hat-trick?” asks a voice at the back.   Eventually Lakenheath win a corner and the action steps up a gear. “Come on Heath” shouts a man in the stand; it’s not a very imaginative nickname for the club but it follows the pattern set at nearby Mildenhall who are known as ‘The Hall’.  Personally, I reckon they should be known as ‘The Quarrymen’ .   After one corner, follows another as a shot flashes past the post, deflected away by the Mulbarton defence.   It’s twenty-five past four and Frank Gammon sends a kick deep into the Mulbarton half, the bounce fools the Mulbarton defence and number eleven James McCabe runs on to poke the ball over Tom Wright’s head and puts  ‘The Heath’ (‘The Quarrymen’) two-nil up. 

With the second goal the game changes and seems to lose the reserve it showed earlier. Lakenheath miss open-goals and hit the cross-bar whilst Mr Saunders the referee becomes rather officious and begins to wave his yellow card about with gay-abandon, booking players on both teams, mostly it appears for whinging and whining rather than anything particularly serious.  I think it’s his way of adding to the entertainment, everyone loves a good moan about the referee.   But happily if there is any ill-feeling it doesn’t last and with the final whistle Mr Saunders and his assistants stand together to receive the handshakes of both teams.

As the stand empties out after the game we stop and talk for several minutes with three people in orange hi-viz jackets, who are temporarily working on the air base, it’s almost as if we don’t want to leave.   Driving back home along the B1112 Paulene and I reflect on our afternoon at ‘The Pit’ and both agree that we’ve had a most enjoyable time and importantly have witnessed a Suffolk team beating a Norfolk one which in my mind at least helps redress the recent imbalance between Ipswich Town and Norwich City.   We look forward to returning on a sunny day.

Ipswich Town 0 Fulham 2

I had not originally intended to go to this match; I had thought that the game between Colchester United and Football League ‘new boys’ Forest Green Rovers was a far more attractive prospect. Looking ahead at the fixtures I figured Ipswich would probably be beaten if not embarrassed by Fulham and Forest Green Rovers, as their name implies are rather interesting. FGR are based in the smallest settlement to ever have a team in the Football League (Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, population 5,800 in 2011), the chairman is a former new-age traveller turned sustainable energy entrepreneur and the pies at their home ground are intentionally meat-free. But no one would take my Ipswich ticket off my hands and I am still suffering from early season inertia, so I have no ticket for Colchester and I end up on the train to Ipswich once again.
The train is on time and a well-built woman with a brood of children of various ages rudely bustles on whilst other people try to get off. On the train an ageing couple sit silently and then change seats in Colchester without speaking; as if they were communicating by telepathy. A woman in her seventies with blonde hair (yeah, right) clutches a plastic drink bottle to her mouth like a small child. It’s a warm, still, almost sultry late August afternoon and I can feel my T-shirt sticking to me slightly as I lean back on the dark grey moquette of the train seat.
The train hurtles along the tracks at a fair tilt and arriving in Ipswich on time I head for the St Jude’s Tavern as usual, responding to the rare promise of good draught beer. Ipswich Town Football Club tells us that they serve real ale but sadly it always seems to be Greene King. Portman Road is still fairly quiet, but a few Fulham fans are here already waiting for the turnstiles to open; the stall selling old programmes is almost set-up, the burger vendors have their griddles heated and a couple of early diners sit on a low rail and fold foamy bread rolls into their mouths with ketchup tainted fingers.


At St Jude’s Tavern I sit alone today and so have bought a copy of the programme (£3.00) to read. I drink a pint of Gannet Mild (£3.40) and twenty minutes later a pint of Nethergate Five Rifles (£3.00); it’s still only twenty five past two so I throw caution to the wind and down a third pint; Lacon’s Legacy (£3.20). The programme is not very interesting, as ever, full of the usual platitudes and cliché. There is an article about the young player Tristan Nydam, which labours under the weird and meaningless title of “Tris and Shout”.36839260615_e37db216a2_o It takes me a few seconds to twig that this is an attempt at a pun based on the song title “Twist and Shout”. Within seconds I come up with my own vastly superior choice of pun title: “Tristan’s Handy”, which actually means something, clearly relates to the player’s name and raises the tone by referencing a work of Irish literature, with which Mick McCarthy as former manager of the Eire national team will surely be familiar (that’s Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne…just in case).
Leaving St Jude’s I make my way down Portman Road, following three gentlemen36668891822_90b2dbac4d_o who have the appearance of a Last of the Summer Wine tribute act. Inside the ground the public address system is playing Bon Jovi, I head for the toilet to drain my bladder, but there is no escape from the dreadful, anthemic, 1980’s hair-rock, which is possibly being fed in through the cistern. Now in my seat I feel doubly relieved as the strains of Bon Jovi recede, the teams enter the field to a particularly bloated rendition of ‘My Way’ (Bobby Robson’s favourite song apparently) and it’s time for the game to begin; it is two minutes past three, we’re late.
Fulham take control of the game with indecent haste, barely allowing Ipswich a kick-of the ball. The home crowd settle down into their accustomed quietude and predictably the Fulham fans ask through the medium of song “Is this a library”? In places it resembles a chapel of rest as the demographic for Town fans becomes increasingly top heavy with those who remember the good old days. In lieu of the parachute payments enjoyed by other clubs who make it into the Premier League for a season, ITFC could probably make up the shortfall by offering their own funeral service.
There is little to excite the home fans and a when the female linesman (lineswoman?) appears to miss the ball going out, she provokes ire, setting back the cause of feminism by a hundred years. A shot from a Fulham player hits a post and I dare to think that may be Fulham will continue to completely dominate but will never score. It is twenty five past three and I don’t think Ipswich have had the ball in the Fulham penalty area yet. 36005304804_15826af0a9_oThe Fulham goalkeeper wanders about to keep awake and in the manner of a grizzly bear, rubs his back on the pole that secures the goal net; he is wearing a vivid all red kit the colour of a nationalised, 1970’s Eastern Counties bus.
Half past three goes by and Ipswich have their first shot in the general, but not exact direction of the Fulham goal. Five or so minutes later however, a deep cross from the left is met by the head belonging to Fulham’s Neeskins Kabano and Fulham take the lead. I am disappointed, Ipswich have won their first four league games, I had hoped for better, but I cannot deny being impressed by a bloke with the name Neeskins Kabano. I cannot begrudge a goal scored by a man whose name brings together the very best of Dutch football from the 1970’s and a spicy, Polish pork sausage. All power to his elbow and other joints and limbs.
Puffed up with the sense of self-love that football crowds seem to develop when their team is winning, the Fulham fans start to chant “Super Fulham, Super Fulham FC” which36701521662_8193909c95_o is a bit confusing as it sounds as if there are two teams, ordinary common or garden Fulham FC and then another team called Super Fulham FC. Unimpressed by such boastfulnesss, Ipswich manage their first shot on target. Then, for a second time in the space of a few minutes the Fulham physio is called on to attend to their evidently rather needy number 10 after he blocks a shot Ipswich’s from Martyn Wagstaff (Waggy).
Half-time. I wander about beneath the stand eating a Traidcraft chewy cereal bar. I look up at a floodlight above the stand, I look out into Portman Road through the gates guarded by men in hi-vis; long gone are the more generous, less uptight days of getting in free at half-time. I look towards the players’ tunnel and a point beyond which a sign tells me I am not permitted. The sniffer dog and his handler walk in from Portman Road; the dog has perhaps had a recreational break involving local lamp posts. I see a girl who looks a bit like Adrian Rabiot of Paris St Germain, I decide it’s her nose that’s the similarity but he’s better looking.
The second half releases me from my aimlessness and I return to my seat. The game is soon lost however as Ipswich’s Polish goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski, and therefore the player most likely to be familiar with kabanos, makes a brilliant one-handed save, only for some other bloke in a white shirt and black shorts to score from the rebound. Bugger. Fulham are streets ahead of Ipswich, as they were when they played here last season, but I shall put this result down to the law of averages; Ipswich were unbeaten and Fulham had yet to win so it was bound to happen. There is little enjoyment to be had from now on knowing the inevitable fate of my team. The first defeat of the season is always hard to take because I always harbour the hope that one day they will go the whole season without losing. Arsenal have done it; Preston North End have done it; The New Saints of Oswestry Town and Llansantffraid have done it so why not Ipswich Town?
I enjoy an advertisement hoarding for Red7Marine the “The marine partner of choice”, even though I would probably choose Aqua Marina from Stingray and I derive some amusement from the reaction of Fulham’s number 9 who, after colliding with one of the safety gates as he slid off the pitch, seems to complain to the referee about its existence as if expecting that the edge of the pitch should stretch off into infinity rather than there being stands around it. The attendance of 16,844 is announced, with 1,236 being with Fulham. I muse on the apparent baldness of David McGoldrick and whether, if the comb-over was still socially acceptable, he would as a professional footballer follow the lead of Bobby Charlton. Fulham bring on their substitute striker Aboubakar Kamara who I saw score for SC Amiens last season at the marvellous and yet dilapidated Stade de la Licorne,36872899585_2f4f6bde2b_o when Amiens played Gazelec Ajaccio in French Ligue 2. Happily Aboubakar doesn’t score today and in fact he doesn’t look very good.
The final whistle is a relief. On balance 0-2 is quite a good score from Ipswich’s point of view. A bloke a few seats along from me reflects on a couple hours of his life having past that he won’t get back. Well we can all say that, even the Fulham fans and players. I learn that Colchester United beat Forest Green Rovers 5-1 and my afternoon is complete.